Lee Majors dishes on Six Million Dollar Man role

In Toronto for Fan Expo, Lee Majors looks back at his famous role, giving writer and bionic fanboy Mark Gollom the opportunity (or excuse) to interview his childhood idol.

Actor keeps memories of popular show alive at fan festivals

For five seasons between 1974 and 1978, actor Lee Majors played Col. Steve Austin, test pilot and former astronaut on the mega-popular television show The Six Million Dollar Man. Barely surviving a near fatal crash, Austin was equipped with a bionic arm, two bionic legs and a bionic eye, making him "better, stronger, faster," and all for the price of, well, you can guess.

Along with his marriage to actress and poster girl Farrah Fawcett Majors (Farrah Fawcett, after their divorce), Majors became a television icon, inspiring millions of young fans to imitate his slow-motion bionic fights, all accompanied by the iconic "duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh" sound effects.

Majors, 72, who is still living in California and working in the film and TV industry, will be appearing in Toronto at Fan Expo this weekend, which gave reporter and bionic fanboy Mark Gollom the opportunity (or excuse) to interview his childhood idol.

Lee Majors in all his bionic glory as Col. Steve Austin in a scene from the television action series The Six Million Dollar Man. (Fotos International/Getty Images ) This is really just surreal talking to you. Growing up, you were my hero.

Majors: Thank you. You were a hero to most guys that are in their 40s right now and I was wondering what it's like when you meet somebody in their 40s and they approach you. What's their reaction to you?

Majors: Well, basically like yours. [Laughs] But actually it's all very nice. When you work your behind off for so many years, it's nice to know that some of your work was appreciated. I had all the memorabilia, I had the action figure…

Majors: I'm glad you said "action figure," because a lot of them come up and say, "I had your doll," and I say, "No, no, no, it's an action figure." I didn't play with dolls. I played with action figures. I had a poster. I had the magazines. I had the board game. I think I started my own scrap book. I remember I went out for Halloween one year and had a Six Million Dollar Man costume in a box. I mean it looked nothing like you.

Majors: Generally, it's a red track suit.

Lee Majors, shown with his wife Faith at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood, Calif. (Mark Sullivan/Getty) I also wrote a personal letter so I could join the Six Million Dollar Man fan club and recall getting an autographed picture, which I assumed was a printed copy.

Majors: No, actually we signed all those. No!

Majors: Yes! I 've been doing it religiously for a long, long time. It's getting to be tough -- the fans of today, they send you five pictures or they send you 10 index cards and they want you to sign them and not personalize them. I started doing it for a little bit and them I'm thinking, "All this stuff is just going on eBay."

The classic 'Bigfoot' episode

Lee Majors said that probably the most popular episode with fans is Steve's meeting with  Bigfoot, the seven-foot robot alien whose arm gets ripped off by our bionic hero during their scrap.

Majors had nothing but praise for Bigfoot's portrayer - wrestler Andre the Giant.

Majors said Andre would be sitting waiting in the hot sun in his hairy Bigfoot costume, guzzle six beers at once, crush the cans, get up and do a scene without even being fazed.

"It was different. And it was a lot of fun," Majors said.

He said he was somewhat concerned when the scene called for Andre to take a flying leap onto him.

"He was such a wonderful wrestler and his athletic ability was amazing – I said, 'God, I'm going to be crushed' – but he didn't touch me. He was such a gentle man." What about the smartass fans... who talk about the logistics of bionics?

Majors: You say, "Look, it was a television show. Let's get serious here. It's not rocket science." Talking about things like that. The worse thing was to go into a bar back then and have somebody want to arm wrestle you. That's a little scary.

About the bionic woman

Majors: After about a year, I didn’t have a love interest in 22 shows and I finally said, "You know I got to get a love interest, because I'm tired of looking at you hairy-legged guys running around here." And that's when we thought up the idea of a former girlfriend, and that's where Lindsay Wagner came in. There were rumours you didn’t get along.

Majors: They started paying her as much as I was making and I had put in my year and a half [on my show]. So there had to be some appearance of disagreement. They wanted me to spin off her show and do crossover to help her show get started. So you can understand where [it] might look like resentment. But it was really a contractual disagreement.

It was eventually worked out, but I had to give the appearance that I was very unhappy with it. I think I explained to her a year or two later, [that] I hope she didn’t take it personally, the way it appeared. And if there was [a problem on my part] I apologized, but that's the way business worked at the time. But it's all cool. they started to introduce more bionic people.

Majors: They brought in the bionic boy. You know what, I wanted to be the bionic boy.

Majors: Then they brought in the dog. And I said, "Wait a minute, you take the dog Max, and you take him over to Lindsay's show. I'm not having Max on my show — this dog, a bionic dog." I would think the show would have been grueling on you physically. I mean you're always running.

Majors: It was and I'm paying for it these days. I've had recent knee surgery. Both knees are kind of down to the bone and [I have] a little bit of back problems. It's from almost 48 years of stunt work. I did 90 per cent of all my stuff.

I remember running up at Edwards Air Force Base. It was about 100 degrees and running on a runway and I had to run towards the camera. It was about 60 yards and straight into camera.

Steve Austin running in his classic track suit. (Hutton Archive/Getty Images)

I would run my butt off and they would say, "Sorry, we mis-focused, we gotta do it again." After about six, seven, eight times, I'm going, "Guys, if you don’t get it, you're not going to have it, 'cause I don’t have many more left -- 'cause I was really running."

About the popularity of the show

Majors: When you're working that hard every day, you're not really thinking about it. And I didn’t don’t really know how popular the show is.

I didn’t realize how popular the show really was until probably maybe 10 to 15 years ago because I was always working and once you get out and start travelling around the world and you go to some [exotic] locations that are so distant in the Far East or somewhere. [And people say], "All the villagers used to come out and they had one TV set and we'd all come down to this one place and watch it on whatever night it was... it was like a big deal."

You hear those stories over and over again from different people, different parts of the world. You realize there's not anywhere you can go where somebody hasn’t seen it or they'll recognize you from that show. We don't have the sort of iconic TV heroes we did back then.

Majors: You have a lot of reality people. When I started back in those days, there was only three networks. Now you got at least five or six major networks and then the reality. A kid can do a reality show for a year and of course they think they're stars, but where are they in another five years? Are there plans for a new Six Million Dollar Man movie?

Majors: There's been scripts written and turned down. I don’t know if they want me. If they want me, they'll call me. You'd have to star in it.

Majors: Nope. I would do the Oscar Goldman part. I want to sit there in the office and point my finger and say, "Steve, go get 'em."

Lee Majors will be appearing at Fan Expo Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Aug. 26-28.